Dog Days at the Reservoir

We enjoyed swimming at playing at Reservoir Beach this summer, and after it closed for swimming (for people), there was one day where it was open for dogs: “Dog Days,” organized by A-DOG (Arlington Dog Owners Group). I was pretty excited to take Sudo and let her lope around and socialize…but she was less excited.

She liked putting her nose out the window in the car, though.

“Ooooh, where are we going? Never mind, I don’t care. Keep this breeze coming! Lots of interesting smells.”
Wandering around aimlessly
Not so much making a friend as tolerating a new acquaintance.
“No photos, please. Ugh, the paparazzi are awful at this beach. Let’s go home.”
“OK, here is my reasonably happy face, can we go back home to the couch now?”



What we’ve read so far, two years eleven months

She’s going to be three in an eyeblink! She is really into early readers now (especially anything by Arnold Lobel; Fancy Nancy; the Arthur books; and some Kevin Henkes), but we’re still doing plenty of picture books. Here are a few of our recent favorites:

  • Home by Carson Ellis (pairs well with This Is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe)
  • Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and This Is The House That Jack Built by Simms Taback (she loved these; I liked them but, because of their repetitive nature, wasn’t wild about reading them over and over. You may feel differently! These were recommended by a friend.)
  • Carrot and Pea by Morag Hood
  • Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty (perfect for those who like rhyming text and STE(A)M* messaging)
  • Tony’s Hard Work Day by Alan Arkin (recommended by a co-worker)
  • Dad and the Dinosaur by Jennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • I Don’t Want to Be Big by Dev Petty, illustrated by Mike Boldt
  • Dog on a Digger by Kate Predergast (an excellent wordless picture book)
  • I Feel Teal by Lauren Rille, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro
  • Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly
  • Tinyville Town Gets to Work by Brian Biggs (recommended to us by a friend of a friend as a more modern Busytown, which was pretty accurate)
  • Good Night, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony

*Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics

For more ideas for books for 2-3 year olds, check out the “storytime” posts on my library blog:

Map of Hogwarts and surrounding areaIn my own reading life, I just started a fun project: I’m re-reading all of the Harry Potter books. It’s been a while since I’ve read any of them, and because I had to wait for each book to be published, I never read all seven in a row. (I re-read the first three many times, but the fourth through seventh I only read twice each.) I have already zipped through the first three (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban) since August 31, but they’re relatively short. Still, I may finish all seven before the end of the month. I’m making up trivia questions as I go so I can host a Harry Potter trivia night at the library later this year or early 2019. If you’re local, stay tuned!

New theme again

As the banner over the chalkboard in my sixth-grade classroom said, “Just ‘good enough’ is not good enough.” I ditched the last blog theme and found a new one I’m happier with. Again, let me know if anything is wonky. To reward your patience, here’s a photo of the kiddo and some ducks at the pond.

Kid in hat and dress sitting on a rock, watching ducks on the pond

Early September garden

IMG_20180831_082641Well, the hydrangea is kaput. It died in a spectacularly quick and mysterious fashion – all of the leaves, including those on the two stems I cut and put in water, shriveled and crisped up – and I dug it up and returned it to the nursery, where I got a refund but no satisfying answers as to what had happened to it. (We did have some days with temperatures in the 90s right after planting, but I was sure to give it plenty of water.)

I was reluctant to replace it with another hydrangea, so I wandered around the nursery and found a tall grass (Panicum virgatum “Cape Breeze”) and a small rose bush (“hydrangealicious”) instead. I waited for the next heat wave to pass, making sure the plants had plenty of water in their pots, then planted when the weather cooled off a little. The tall grass (which was very root-bound – I loosened it with a garden fork) went where the hydrangea had been, and the rose went on the other side of the arbor vita.

In other garden news, the sunflowers are bursting out beautifully, the tomatoes are still coming, and the pumpkin vine produced a pumpkin after all!




Updated theme

Pilcrow was retired, and after a long delay, I finally chose a new theme, though I wish the sidebar was on the right side rather than the left. Well, it’s good enough. Let me know if there are any problems or the site is behaving weirdly. Here’s what it used to look like:

Screenshot of About page of this blog with Pilcrow theme
So long, Pilcrow, and thanks for all the fish.

Who are the flowers in your neighborhood?

Lately in my walks around the neighborhood with the dog, I’ve noticed some gorgeous varieties of what looked like hydrangea, but not the “puffball” kind that you usually see in blue, pink, purple, or white: these plants were often bigger and had a different shape, and while the flowers themselves had the same shape, their arrangement was more pyramidical than spherical.

So I visited my local garden center’s website, and learned about “the wondrous world of hydrangea paniculata.” A few things convinced me to add this plant to my garden:

    1. Panicle hydrangeas are super easy, reliable, and very hardy.
    2. They adapt to a variety of light levels, from full sun to partial shade and even the shade of a north facing garden. (Important for me, because nowhere in my backyard gets what a gardener would call “full sun.”)
    3. Another lovely feature of these hydrangeas is the flower’s ability to subtly change color over its many months of bloom.

I went looking for the “vanilla strawberry” but ended up with the very similar “strawberry sundae.” I got a bag of mulch and compost too, and spent the afternoon making some changes in the garden…

My mom helped. First, she dug out what I was sure was an immovable tree root that we were going to have to work around. Nope! (It looks small in this picture but it was impressive in real life.)


Toddler helped too, even with her ridiculously oversized gardening gloves.


We moved the small tree from the other side of the yard, where it was in an awkward spot too close to the edge of the deck; here in the opposite corner of the yard, it looks proud and green and also covers up the gap between the back fence and the neighbor’s shed (from a certain angle, at least).


Here it is, all moved and mulched! There’s a cluster of three coral bells to the left of the hydrangea, and three hellebore(s?) between the hydrangea and the tree. There’s also some brunnera sort of hidden by the hydrangea – it was a transplant from my cousin last year and has already spread.

Elsewhere in the garden:


I have been harvesting tomatoes by the bowlful from my raised bed and a few other containers.


A second calla lily has emerged from a pot that was in the basement last winter.


My balloon flower (platycodon if we’re being fancy) and wildflowers are happy.


And the pumpkin vine continues its mission to take over the town.

What we’ve read so far, two years ten months


Storytime prep: There Might Be Lobsters, Oh No, George!, Huff & Puff, Bark, George, They All Saw A Cat, Still Stuck, One Little Blueberry, There’s A Bear On My Chair


Storytime prep backups: Do You Know Which Ones Will Grow?, Count the Monkeys, Can Somebody Please Scratch My Back?, That Is NOT A Good Idea, Carrot & Pea, The Duckling Gets A Cookie?!, Round, My Heart Is Like A Zoo

This summer I’ve done two all-ages storytimes at the library, and I have definitely been using the kiddo and her buddies as test subjects. All of the above titles have been successful! We’ve also read plenty more – see below – and have been enjoying audiobook versions of Arnold Lobel’s stories: Frog & Toad and Uncle Elephant, especially.

  • Stumpkin by Lucy Ruth Cummins (see also: A Hungry Lion, Or A Dwindling Assortment of Animals)
  • Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal
  • Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick
  • Petra by Marianna Coppo
  • We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (cannot recommend this one highly enough; pairs well with Tyrannosaurus Wrecks! and People Don’t Bite People)
  • Cinderella and The Three Little Pigs, the Nosy Crow versions (imprint of Candlewick)
  • The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson (of Gruffalo fame)
  • Dad and the Dinosaur by Gennifer Choldenko, illustrated by Dan Santat
  • I Don’t Want to Be Big by Dev Petty
  • This Zoo Is Not For You by Ross Collins
  • This Is the House That Jack Built by Simms Taback (recommended by a friend)

Some bedtime favorites are Sleep Tight Farm and 13 Words (pro tip: if a kid under five years old knows the word “haberdashery,” they have read this book). What are your favorite picture books for toddlers?


Homegrown: summer garden, summer food, and other things


The raised bed of tomatoes has turned into a jungle. Next year I will have to put in fewer plants, and be vigilant about staking them early and cutting them back. But right now I’m enjoying picking a small bowlful of tomatoes nearly every day! The sungolds are especially delicious. The chocolate cherry ones haven’t been as productive, but they are very tasty as well. The red bush tomatoes are good, but they got taller than I expected and really…why not just grow all sungolds and sweet 100s?

IMG_20180729_085716The blueberry bush has produced a few blueberries. They are small but packed with flavor; I don’t think any have even made them into the house, we just eat them as soon as we pick them. I wasn’t sure if we would get them this year (the raspberry bush didn’t produce any berries its first year), so it was a pleasant surprise. Protecting them with row cover has helped.

Despite the relentless heat this summer and the equally relentless humidity, I’ve baked a few things: buttermilk biscuits, zucchini bread, chocolate chip cookies (which the toddler calls “chocolate vanilla cookies,” and they do have vanilla extract in them, so she’s not wrong), and chocolate peanut butter pie. None of these recipes have anything in common other than “I wanted them” (or, in one case, “we have a zucchini”). piece of chocolate peanut butter pie with whipped creamFor the chocolate peanut butter pie, I used the Smitten Kitchen recipe for the filling and topping, but instead of her shortbread crust, I used a graham cracker crust like I do for key lime pie: One package of graham crackers, 5 Tbsp butter, 2 Tbsp sugar (I think) whizzed in a food processor and pressed into a pan, baked for 10 minutes at 350.

Lest you think I only make and eat sweets, fear not: I also made nachos for my cousins when they came over.


Back in May, I did a wheel workshop at a pottery studio, and made two bowls. I went back a few weeks later to paint them, and a few weeks after that to pick them up. I’m really pleased with them, especially the watermelon design one. It is the perfect size for ice cream (though it has also held tomatoes).


IMG_20180722_115417Going back to the garden, I made a potted arrangement to take to a bridal shower, and it was very well-received. The bride-to-be is a good cook/baker, so I chose herbs appropriate for a kitchen garden: sage, rosemary, and lemon thyme. The plants ought to last through the rest of the summer and fall, and if they don’t last through winter, at least it’s a pretty pot.

So, I’ve been busy making things, baking things, and trying not to melt…oh, and of course, reading things! “What we’ve read so far, two years ten months” edition coming soon.



New recipe and mid-summer garden update

My friend Lauren is an accomplished and adventurous cook, and after trying the dal she made, I was emboldened to try it myself. It’s a very easy recipe from Oh She Glows, it just required a few ingredients we don’t regularly have in the pantry. I used broccoli, sweet potato, and tofu for the veggies, and left out the minced onion and the garnish (lime juice and cilantro).

IMG_20180714_132631As for the garden…I can’t believe I haven’t updated here since Memorial Day weekend! Since then, the calibrochoa has sprawled beautifully. Next spring, I’ll be a little more intentional with my annuals; I loved last year’s combination of Icelandic poppies, calibrochoa, verbena, and lobelia – maybe with some snapdragons too. (The marigolds are bright and healthy but don’t seem to be doing much to keep the critters away.)

IMG_20180629_082506The strawberries came and went – we had the last of them in early July. Next year perhaps I’ll make room for them in my raised bed; I think they might have been crowded in the hanging baskets, and definitely in the (alleged) strawberry pot. The raspberries came in nicely – I was so excited to have any! Only a few canes produced but they are so delicious. The blueberries are ripening too, and I expect the first ones will be ready later this month and into August.


IMG_20180620_083441The Wando shelling peas are the surprise hit of the summer – everyone loved them, even the toddler! I’ll do more of these next year, and prioritize them a bit more. They all came in over the course of a week or two, but they were great. I’m not sure what happened with the sweet peas, but I’ll try them again next year too. (And maybe nasturtiums in the hanging baskets, instead of the strawberries.)

Of the six pumpkin plants I put in the ground, four seem to have disappeared entirely and two are thriving hugely, with plenty of big yellow flowers. No sign of any actual pumpkins yet.


IMG_20180711_162837The sunflowers indeed disliked being transplanted (as it said on the packet); I don’t think I’ll bother with them again next year. The wildflowers, however, have just started popping in the last week or two, and it’s a pretty mix. More wildflowers next year!

The tomato plants are enormous – the raised bed is like a jungle. I’ve harvested the basil in there twice already, and now I think it’s crowded out. Next year I’ll plant it around the edges instead of between the rows of tomatoes, and probably should plant fewer tomato plants as well. I’ve talked with a neighbor about sharing seeds next spring, which should help. I find it so difficult to thin the plants when I’m supposed to! Anyway, the tomatoes are still mostly green now, but there are going to be LOTS…if we can keep the squirrels away.



Above, clockwise from top left: daylily (they were here when we moved in), rose campion (transplanted from my mom’s place), calla lily (previously mis-identified as lily of the valley; it spent the winter in the basement); new balloon flower; filling the watering can at the rain barrel.

What we’ve read so far, 2 years 9 months

Early readersWe’ve delved into early readers with Little Bear and Frog and Toad, but we are still reading picture books by the ton. Just this evening as I was working in the children’s department at the library, I got to have a valuable conversation with the mother of two young boys. Her older one was already reading by himself, but “still likes to be read to.” I said, “That is great! You should read to him as long as he likes it.”

I went on to explain that picture books often have a much more complex vocabulary than early readers, because the authors expect that picture books will be read aloud by a fluent reader (adult or otherwise) to a child. Young children can comprehend a great deal, but when they are just beginning to read, they need smaller, easier words, and shorter, less complex sentences. Thus, we have early readers – but, it is still wonderful to be read to, whether that’s picture books or beginning chapter books or both. Plus, reading together creates a warm, comforting atmosphere and positive associations with books and reading.

It’s also important for kids to see their parents and role models reading, so think about family reading time, where everyone reads their own book for a while. (E-books are great, but smartphones and other devices are opaque; you could be doing anything on there, and whoever you’re with won’t know if you’re reading a book or playing a game. For family reading time, read a print book, magazine, or newspaper if you can.)

And don’t forget (or look down on) graphic novels! Visual literacy is an important skill, one that young readers start developing with picture books and continue to develop with comics and graphic novels. Speaking of picture books, here are a few we have been reading and enjoying lately:Cover image, Julian is a Mermaid

  • Julián Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love
  • Tidy by Emily Gravett
  • This Is How We Do It, Matt Lamothe
  • Museum ABC, The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Max and Bird by Ed Vere

And if you’re looking for especially good read-aloud books, I wrote about my first summer storytime on my other blog. I got to read some of my favorite books and it was a great success! What have you been reading lately?

Kid and dad reading in library